Happy 100th Birthday, Planned Parenthood!
The “birth” of Planned Parenthood Federation of America can be traced to the first birth control clinic in the U.S., which was opened by Margaret Sanger, her sister, and a fellow activist in Brooklyn, New York, on October 16, 1916. As the 6th of 11 children born out of 18 pregnancies in 22 years to an Irish Catholic mother who died at 49, it is not surprising that Sanger became a birth control activist.
Sanger became a fearless activist, educating women about how to avoid pregnancies that too often resulted in self-imposed abortions and death. She published contraceptive information unavailable elsewhere, (even in libraries or from physicians), due to prohibitions on sex education deemed “obscene” by the federal Comstock Act.
Fast forward to today: One hundred years after the opening of the first clinic, Planned Parenthood is still fighting—a fight that has broadened in scope from education and access to reproductive justice.
Some highlights of the 100-year fight include:
- 1921: Establishment of the American Birth Control League, adding legislative reform and research to its mission (the name was changed to Planned Parenthood in 1942).
- 1951: Research grant awarded to Planned Parenthood to develop a birth control pill.
- 1965: Supreme Court legalized birth control for married people; Estelle Griswold, Planned Parenthood’s Connecticut President, opened a birth control clinic to challenge the state’s ban on birth control and successfully overturned the ban!
- 1970: Contraceptives and sex education and contraception research becomes available through public funding; President Nixon and Republican leadership agree that family planning is part of public health.
- 1973: Abortion becomes legal when the Supreme Court rules that abortion is a protected privacy right guaranteed by the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution (Roe v. Wade).
- 1970s to present: Physical attacks on clinics and providers and continuous legislative attempts at restrictions on abortion.
- 2011: Affordable Care Act requires health insurance plans to cover contraception.
- 2016: 100 years after Sanger’s first clinic opened in New York, the U.S. Supreme Court holds Texas’ restrictions on abortion providers that severely limited access to be illegal in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
Today, Planned Parenthood continues to be the subject of attacks by politicians and religious extremists. As a patient escort at a local abortion services provider, I can testify to offensive rhetoric of some anti-abortion protesters (among other names, fellow volunteers and I have been referred to as “Satan’s spawn” and “conspirators to murder”). Planned Parenthood’s physicians, staff, and volunteers are courageous in the face of such opposition.
Planned Parenthood is now the largest provider of women’s healthcare in the country. According to Planned Parenthood statistics, one in three women have abortions at some point in their lives. Thanks to Planned Parenthood and other providers, abortion has become a safe medical procedure and self-imposed abortion deaths familiar to Margaret Sanger have become a thing of the past in the United States.
For all the important work performed by Planned Parenthood over the past 100 years that has allowed us to advance the cause of women and families, let us all take the time to acknowledge the 100th birthday and consider donating our time and/or our resources to continue the fight.
This blog post was authored by Anne M. Haule. Anne M. Haule is a writer, feminist, progressive activist, and retired health lawyer, who wrote this on behalf of the Lawyers Club’s Reproductive Justice Committee.